Saying Farewell: Guard Unit Prepares for Deployment to Iraq
The Southern Pines-based unit of the North Carolina National Guard will deploy to Iraq for the second time next spring.
Before going to war, they must undergo training -- first at Fort Bragg, then -- after a break to spend holidays with their families -- in Mississippi. They will then head to the California desert outside Barstow before heading to Iraq.
On Tuesday morning at the National Guard Armory on Morganton Road, families and friends attended a deployment ceremony for the local unit, Company C -- the 1st of the 252 Combined Arms Battalion -- which is part of the North Carolina National Guard's 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT).
The 30th HBCT began holding farewell ceremonies for units across the state Nov. 14, according to a release on the N.C. National Guard Web site. Some 26 ceremonies are being held through Jan. 3 -- each one at or near the hometowns of units which are scattered throughout North Carolina.
Members of the 440th N.C. National Guard Band that played for the morning ceremony in Southern Pines, headed to Sanford to play for a similar ceremony at 2 p.m. in Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church for Company D, and finally to Fayetteville where the HHC of 1-252's ceremony was set for 4:30 in Manna Church.
About 4,000 soldiers from the 30th HBCT are going this time. A larger farewell ceremony for all the soldiers of the brigade will be scheduled closer to the actual deployment for Iraq early next spring.
Congressman Howard Coble, state Sen. Harris Blake and Southern Pines Mayor Mike Haney were among dignitaries attending the ceremony.
Coble paid tribute to the service also given by families -- "those you leave behind" -- when a Guard unit deploys.
"There are many evil people in this world today," he said. "They resent the fact that we live in freedom."
He told of an encounter with a former Soviet political prisoner, a 23-year-old man who looked 50 and whose most difficult adjustment after release was dealing with freedom.
"Tears came to his eyes," Coble said. "And he said, 'I can't get used to being free -- I am not handling freedom well,' he said to me, almost pleading with me to tell him how to be free. I said that too many of us don't handle freedom well either: we take freedom for granted. Many of us here in this hall today have never known what it means not to be free. Thank you all for making this possible."
'Return Home Soon'
Coble assured the Guardsmen that they were ready for what they would have to face.
"You have been pronounced qualified," he said. "I wish you godspeed, and I hope this will be the last time you will be deployed. I hope you will return home soon. Thank you all."
Blake told the soldiers he and the others were present for a special reason.
"We are here to wish our fellow citizens a safe journey through war in Iraq," he said. "Fifty years ago, I was in similar circumstance, getting ready to go to Korea. Today, South Korea is one of our leading allies. Know that you are on a mission for freedom, and that freedom will allow your children and your grandchildren to enjoy the freedoms we have today."
One soldier may have been listening with particular attention to Blake. Sgt. David Watts grew up in Blake's home community of Jackson Springs, and has known the senator all his life.
Now Watts is a top gunner who'll be riding a tank in Iraq. On Tuesday, he -- like the others -- was saying his farewells to his wife Rebecca and their two young children.
Five-year-old Carson was racing around with other youngsters as his father held his 1-year-old baby sister, Marisa, who tugged at her knitted cap and smiled at passersby. This is her father's first deployment to a war zone.
"I was here during the last deployment, serving as rear detachment," Watts said. "This time, I will go with some veterans."
National Guard troops are civilians at home and are called "citizen soldiers." In ordinary life, they manage local stores, teach, work in regular jobs. They are called to duty when disaster strikes.
Before the first deployment to Iraq, many of these soldiers had no experience overseas. The unit had primarily helped with disaster relief after hurricanes.
Historic Record of Service
Their commander is 1st Lt. Gregory Jenkins. He is a Wake County sheriff's deputy -- or was, until a year ago when he went full-time preparing for this deployment.
"Our mission this time is what they call full-spectrum counterinsurgency operations," Jenkins said. "A big part of that is going to be training Iraq security forces. Things have shifted this past year in very much a positive direction. We will probably be over there a year. That's what we have been told so far."
The purpose, he said, is to give Iraqis the chance to decide for themselves their country's future.
"That is my hope to it," he said, "hope that the mission we have will help them sustain as the people choose their government and what they would like. There is always hope there."
This National Guard Battalion has an historic record of service, from battlefields of France during World War I -- seeing action at Ypres-Lys, in the Somme offensive, on Flanders fields -- and those of World War II in Normandy, the Rhineland, the Ardennes, and in recent years the sands of Iraq.
In 2003, the brigade, including the Southern Pines unit, became the first National Guard Brigade Combat Team called to duty in Iraq in 2003, and was the first National Guard Brigade Combat Team operated as a stand alone brigade with its own area of operation in Iraq, the Army said.
During their mission in eastern Diyala and Salah al Din provinces, they built schools, trained the Iraqi Security Forces, established joint command centers with Iraqi Security Forces and patrolled the Iranian border with Iraqi Border Patrol.
Though it is near the Iranian border, Diyala is one of the least violent areas in the country because of the mostly rural setting and the U.S. friendly Kurdish population. While there, the brigade engaged in numerous combat operations.
Five members of the brigade were killed in combat during the deployment. Four of them were North Carolina Army National Guardsmen, while another was assigned to the unit from the West Virginia Army National Guard.
One of the soldiers killed was Sgt. Michael S. Voss, of Carthage. Voss died when an explosive device detonated near a vehicle in which he was a passenger, outside Kirkuk.
The 35-year-old Voss was a squad leader assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 120th Infantry headquartered in Wilmington.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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